Across the East Bay hills lies a community whose reputation far surpasses it's relatively small size, a place where excellence in education is equally matched by a spirit that all nontraditionals may apply. Home to a great university and home to a counterculture lifestyle that's recognized around the world.
Though officially known as Berkeley, some have chosen the term Berserkeley as more appropriate and it is to this second descriptive name that Brentwood resident John R. Taylor has chosen to set his recently released novel, "Only in Berserkeley."
The Brentwood resident presents readers with a nontraditional, surrealistic story for his third novel, knowing from the get-go that he wanted to develop several different storylines with his context.
"I decided that the way to do that was to go to Berkeley," Taylor said. "Berkeley has so much going on that you can't miss; it's a gold mine!"
In the story, UC Berkeley is under siege while a serial killer prowls the campus committing savage, sacrificial murders. Taylor calls his villain The Gatekeeper, a man who prowls by night and is himself haunted by eerie nightmares.
Taylor's protagonist is female UCPD Detective Terri Watts, in charge of investigating the murders, and who becomes involved in a cat-and-mouse game with The Gatekeeper as he taunts her with clues that reflect his intellectual superiority while at the same time trying to establish a connection with her.
This storyline is joined by a series of others that reflect all the anecdotal things that take place on the fringes and are what Berkeley is all about.
"I have the tactical squad who in addition to having their own way of policing, off duty go out and celebrate and get into all kinds of shenanigans," he said. "Then we have the eccentrics and madcap demonstrations. I tried to bring all those together and how much I succeeded the reader will find out."
As far as an accurate depiction of how a police squad operates, Taylor had a heads-up on other authors, serving 31 years as a policeman in the Oakland Police Department, and he used this experience in selecting Watts as his lead detective over a hard, "cigarette dangling out of his mouth" male.
"I wanted a female because they bring something of their own. Female officers are excellent interrogators because they're able to pry stuff out of suspects that males generally cannot do," Taylor said.
"Males want to be tough whereas females try to be their friend."
Taylor did his homework before writing the book, styling his villain on the Anthony Hopkins's character in "Silence of the Lambs," a truly horrible person with a history of mental problems.
For The Gatekeeper, the author choose DID or disassociated identity disorder, using this as a possible explanation for the heinous acts the villain commits, and read everything he could find on this rare condition.
For his counterculture fringe characters, Taylor researched Berkeley's history of protests and The Naked Guy, including him as one of his group of eccentric misfits that routinely participate in demonstrations. Others that feature in the story and are enrolled in a creative-writing class are Karl the Marxist, Drag Queen Quentin, Brother Monk and the Tree Hugger, among others.
"It's all mad cap craziness going on but I did my homework," he said.
Taylor has built up a good track record with his two previous novels, being awarded first prize by Oak Tree Press Writers Competition for "Days on a Beach" and placing second in the Southwest Writers writing competition for "Land of a Thousand Dances".
Stating that law enforcement enjoy reading about themselves, Taylor believes "Only in Berserkeley" will be popular with police, as well as mystery readers and anyone associated with UC Berkeley, hoping they accept the story as fiction.
"This being a satire you can't take it verbatim. I recognize that the university is well-renown; one of the best in the world. I don't think I was mean-spirited, but I did have some fun," Taylor said.
Taylor admits that writing is hard work but overall the experience was fun and hopes this is picked up by his readers.
"Making things up, based on fact, embellishing; it's fun," he said. "I hope readers have a good time reading it, that they enjoy it because in the end, it's entertainment.
"Even if it's a controversial book, if people enjoy it you've accomplished your mission."
"Only in Berserkeley," Black Rose Writing, $17.95, or $7.99 on Amazon, Kindle edition. For more information, go to www.blackrosewriting.com/ mysterydetective/only-in-berserkeley.